Most people associate Morocco with colorful souks, sand dunes, camel rides through the desert and drinking sugary mint tea. While the latter turned out to be a new addiction for me, one of the best activities during our trip to Marrakesh was an afternoon trek in the Atlas Mountains at Toubkal National Park.
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Toubkal National Park
Toubkal or known as Toubkal in Berber is a mountain peak in southwestern Morocco, located in the Toubkal National Park. Mount Toubkal (Jbel Toubkal) is a peak that isn’t so well known to non-mountaineers but at 4,167 meters (13,671 ft), it is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains. It is popular with serious trekkers especially from spring through autumn when they come to summit the peak. The High Atlas Mountains runs diagonally across Morocco for almost 1000km, encircling Marrakesh to the south and east from the Atlantic Coast.
The Jurassic peaks of the Atlas mountains act as a weather barrier between the Mediterranean climate of the north and the Sahara to the south. The high Atlas are known as Idraren Draren, Mountains of Mountains in the Berber language. The range extends from the Atlantic Ocean toward the Algerian border. It is so rugged that Martin Scorsese used it as a stand-in for the Himalayas when he filmed his 1997 epic, Kundun. And you can see the Toubkal Kasbah where Seven years in Tibet was filmed with Brad Pitt.
We had not planned on going on a trek but when we woke up to clear skies and snow-capped mountain views at Kasbah Tamadot we decided to check out Armed, the highest village in North Africa. There was also promise of a traditional lunch at the highest rooftop terrace in the village.
Imlil, Ait Mizane Valley
The car drove us past the Kasbah and Asni valley to the village of Imlil. We met our guide, Mohammed here and our mules. We foolishly decided against taking four mules and just went with two which we regretted in a few minutes. We were prepared with layers of warm clothes but our shoes were not waterproof to hike up the rugged snow-covered paths.
The quaint village of Imlil is a base for many going on treks in the Atlas Mountains at Toubkal National Park. The settlement in the Ait Mizane Valley offers stunning views and there are a few hotels that people stay at before embarking on the 3 day trek needed to summit Toubkal, the highest peak in Morocco.
Aroumd, Highest Village in North Africa
We walked up the trail following our guides, there was no marked trail, you would definitely need a guide to help navigate the terrain. Some places the trail was narrow with steep drops. If we had listened to our guides and taken the four mules, it would have been a much easier hike. We were huffing and puffing by the end. We enjoyed every minute of the trek though – it was so peaceful. We passed through a few Berber houses, kids playing in the streets and families and mules along the way. In some ways it reminded me of the treks in the Himalayas with mt Girl Scout group back in the day.
It took us about an hour and a half to reach Armed, the highest village in North Africa. Armed which is also known as Aroumd sits at about 2000m about sea level with a population of 1900. Once we reached the restaurant which is more of a traditional house, we were welcomed with warm water to clean our hands before lunch. We were the only ones there for lunch that afternoon. During the spring months, the restaurant is busy with folks who come to trek in the Atlas Mountains at Toubkal National Park.
An excellent traditional Berber lunch was waiting for us at the rooftop along with stunning views of the snowy mountains. But first, we enjoyed some mint tea on the highest roof terrace of the village. Then came hot skewers of chicken, curried pasta and fresh salads. The olives were the best! The boys enjoyed their meaty tajines cooked with fresh figs and vegetables. The food was excellent and the views amazing – we could not have asked for a better afternoon!
A few things to keep in mind: Morocco is a moderate country when it comes to Islam and is very welcoming of tourists. The locals understand that travelers come from different cultures and hence have different rules but it is always good to be mindful and respectful. The local culture is quite modest and it not common to see people in shorts so dress appropriately. We were there in winter and wore pants, sweaters and jackets. If you are visiting during the summer months cover up to limbs with lightweight clothing. See this post for tips on what to wear in Morocco. Don’t be flashy with your possessions either.
We stayed on the rooftop terrace enjoying the views. The mules and our guides were waiting as we heard the call to prayer drift over the rooftops. It was time to head back!
If you find yourself in Marrakech, plan for a day trip to trek in the Atlas Mountains at Toubkal National Park, most hotels can arrange it. Our guide Mohammed mentioned he works with guests from La Mamounia, La Sultana in addition to Kasbah Tamadot where we stayed near the Atlas Mountains. Kasbah Du Toubkal, a National Geographic Lodge is another great place to stay in the Atlas Mountains if you want to stay and explore and hike.
We were in Morocco for just a few days and didn’t have time to explore the rest of the country. If you have the luxury of time, see my friend Jenny’s 2.5 week Morocco self drive itinerary to help plan your trip. We loved Morocco and know that we will be back again to explore more of this vibrant country!
See this post for a 7 day Itinerary all the top things to do in Marrakech
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